BELLINGHAM - A pickup driver reaching for his cup of coffee sideswiped a parked state trooper's cruiser early Tuesday, Nov. 5, on the shoulder of northbound Interstate 5 in Bellingham.
Trooper David Hintz, 46, had been doing speed patrols on the freeway, gradually heading north from the Skagit County line, when he pulled over to the right shoulder - a car's width from the fog line - between the exits to Old Fairhaven Parkway and Samish Way, according to the Washington State Patrol. He parked off the road as far as he could, with his headlights on, and started catching up on some paperwork, said Trooper Keith Leary.
"The next thing you know, there was this violent, violent hit of his patrol car, which thrust him forward," Leary said.
A 3/4-ton Chevrolet pickup had drifted to the right and crashed into the back driver's side of the trooper's 2012 Chevy Caprice around 12:12 a.m., totaling the car.
Hintz couldn't open the crumpled door, so firefighters cut away part of the car to get him out. He had pain in his neck and back when he was taken to St. Joseph hospital. He was treated and released at 2:45 a.m.
"It could have been a lot worse," Leary said. "He's very, very lucky."
Hintz, a state highway patrolman for the past 22 years, had a seat belt on. In a phone conversation with Leary on Tuesday afternoon, he said he was still "sore and banged up." He's waiting for medical clearance to come back to work.
His cruiser had been on the road for less than a year. Brand new, the car cost about $31,000, and it's outfitted with $8,000 in gear.
The driver of the 2011 Chevy pickup, Thomas Denman, 56, of Lakewood, wasn't hurt. He will be charged with improper lane travel, Leary said. He passed sobriety tests but admitted he was distracted by his coffee, according to a state patrol memo.
"This is another classic case of distracted driving," Leary said.
It's the third time this week a state trooper's cruiser has been hit by a passing driver. And for Hintz, it's the second time this year. In August, the door of his cruiser got ripped off by a passing car when he was pulled over on Guide Meridian.